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Lisa, a Trinidadian immigrant, shares the true story of a forced marriage that went sour as her husband grappled with his own sexuality.
NSNC: How did you meet your husband?
Oh. That was my mom, God rest her soul.
Yeah. Thanks to my mom. My mom was Spiritual Baptist. And my two first daughters'--their dad had just passed and she said, I needed more stability in my life. I needed more stability, not only for me but also for the girls. So I thought, 'Oh, okay. Maybe she's right.' I don't really like him, but maybe eventually I'll grow to like him.'
NSNC: You had known him before?
No, never knew him before. But every time he would come over to the church, she would, go the extra mile. 'Vito wants to say hello. He's asking for you. You must come and say hello.' And I'm like, 'Nah, I'm good.' She kept insisting but I wouldn't pay her any mind. But then one day, she was pretty slick about it. She said to me that I must bring slippers down to her. And I went into her room and got the slippers. And as I said, she's Spiritual Baptist. So you pay respect to your elders. We go into the church, you kneel before them. You put their slippers or shoes on and off. So I made my way to the church and did that, put her slippers on, made sure she was okay.
And then she pointed up and made sure that I saw him. So I said, 'Ok, hi.' He looked cute. But I walked away. But then a couple of weeks later there was another gathering. She didn't tell me he was going to be there and lo and behold, when I got there that night, he was there. And we started talking. We were talking about children and different families. It was a big gathering at the church and they were talking about babies and abortions and I said, 'I already have two and their father's dead. If I ever find myself in that position again, I'll abort it. And he said, 'No, you won't do it any such thing because the next child you're going to have is with me.'
I said, 'Man! You're dreaming! That ain't going happen.' A year later, it did happen. But what's funny about it, he also said, 'You'll have five children by me.' I was like, 'Yeah, right! In your dreams.' Three children were born. I miscarried two and I aborted one. So my brood of six would have actually been a brood of nine.
NSNC: So, how did you guys go about getting married? How was the relationship when you first started?
It was basically built around the church. He was a leader, a young, prominent, Baptist leader to begin with. First of all, we were married within the culture, ceremonial rites by one of the deities present. And I didn't realize that's what it was until after it happened. Somebody started their manifestation, whatever, and she pulled me aside, started looking on me. Then they pulled him, joined our hands together, then called for my two daughters at the time and they joined us together, with the children in. And I'm like, 'Okay, so what's all this?'
One young lady in particular, she got mad and stormed off. I asked another lady and she said, 'You're not supposed to be talking to me. Talk to him.' And then I looked at my mother and my mother's like, 'I didn't expect that to happen that quickly.' I said, "Will somebody explain what's going on?! And it wasn't until after it was done, they were like, 'Well, you guys are now unified. That's it. That's your husband.' I'm like, 'What?'
NSNC: Oh my God!
They said, 'Yeah, it was a religious ceremony.' I said, 'Just like that? Without even asking me if I wanted to commit? Nothing? Just like that?' And they said, 'Well, they know what's best for you. So this is what it is.' I was like '...Okay...alright."
NSNC: How old were you?
At that time--this happened in 2000-- so 24.
And that was that. Once that was done, I said, 'Before anything else happens, I need you to go with me to my OBGYN because I ain't making no more children.' And he laughed and he said, 'Whatever I pray for, I get.' I'm like, 'Yeah, whatever. You're going to go with me to my OBGYN. I'm not making no more babies.' So, he went with me for the appointment, was right there when the doctor did all the examinations and everything. Started the pills, started everything.
A couple of months later, he got up in the morning. He was about to leave to go back to the U.S. because he would travel back and forth. Six months in Trinidad, six months in the U.S. And that morning he was leaving, he got up and he said, 'You're pregnant.' Just like that.
'Yeah you're pregnant.'
'Boy, stop kidding. I'm taking my meds.'
He said, 'You're taking it, but I'm telling you, you're pregnant.'
'Yeah, you'll call me while I'm over there and you'll tell me better.'
'Man, stop playing with me. Just go! Call or write, whatever.'
And he left. We took him to the airport, came back home, continued working as normal. And then all of a sudden, one day I went to the gym and couldn't push the weights. I'm thinking, 'Okay, something's wrong.' I get home, my mom had on some kind of perfume, I started throwing up. Something's wrong. And then my mom looked at me and she said, 'You're pregnant.'
I said, 'No, I'm not. I'm taking my pills.' She laughed. 'What did I tell you about taking those things? Those things does nothing to the this family. We are highly fertile. It doesn't matter what you take.'
I'm like, 'Lady, you're joking, right?' leaving. You're joking. Right? I went to the doctor about a week later, I was already about three and half months pregnant.
I was floored. I was mad. Okay, this is really happening. My mom was already happy. Everybody was happy. I'm like, 'It is what it is. I'll make it work.' And then somebody said to my sister, 'Why are you guys agitating your sister with this guy? He's gay.'
So I came out and I asked him, 'Is it true that you're on the other side of the fence?' He said, 'No. I have people around me, I have friends who are like that, but I'm not like that.'
I took his word for it. But then my sister and I decided to start our own investigation. We asked other people within the faith that were gay and they said they'd never seen him interact with anybody on that level. People would say that about him because he hangs out with people who are like that. But he doesn't tolerate it. He doesn't deal with it.
So I thought, 'Okay, no problem. Fine.'
Lisa and Vito went back and forth, deciding whether to stay in Trinidad or move to the States permanently. After a miscarriage and the terrorist attacks on 9-11, the couple decided they were going to stay home. Dissatisfied with her current job, Lisa realized that she needed something with more benefits and perks for her family and thought she’d become a police officer. Her mother disapproved. Lisa talked to her mother about it but she wouldn’t budge. But she was determined. The family started making fun of her:
'Yeah, you can take the tests, do everything, you'll wind up with another baby and you won't be able to do it.' I said, 'Whatever.' I did wind up with another baby. I couldn't go through with it.
In the meantime, Lisa's mother-in-law invited her up to New York to shop for the new baby.
So I thought, 'I can come up for the weekend, shop, come back home. It won't be a big problem. So I came up May 2004 to shop for my son and this little man decided he wanted to be an American. He started giving problems, complications. I couldn't move. They denied me flights. The doctors denied me. They said, 'No, you can't go back you have to stay and finish up the pregnancy here.' So I became rooted in America. I called my mom and she said, 'Well you're already there. We agreed that we're going to send the girls and you're all going to live out there.'
I said, 'What? So nobody asked me what I wanted to do? If I want to keep my job keep my job, how I feel about leaving my stuff behind? Nobody asked anything?' Nope. Nobody cared.
So I wound up staying out here, had my son in June 2004 and my daughters came up in August. At that time, we were living in a tiny one bedroom apartment and it was just my two daughters, at the time, the baby, him and I. His mom was looking after a baby and was gone most times during the week, only came home on the weekend. Then her sister's daughter came up with her family. So it went from being about five of us, to eight of us. Then another family came up and it wound up being 13 of us in that tiny, little one bedroom apartment.
Lisa and her family decided to move in with Vito’s sister, also in New York. When they got there, they realized she had all types of rules and regulations.
No cooking after seven, children's can't laugh at night. They have to be in their beds at a certain time. Lots of restrictions.
That's just how she was. So we went back to his mother's place. We couldn't make it. But then he started acting shady. I wasn't allowed to have any friends. I couldn't go anywhere. I was a housewife. I took care of him, took care of the children, and that was it. He'd go out with friends, he'd do stuff. I would be at home. I couldn't go to a party. But he'd go party with his friends. One of my ex-classmates saw me, hugged me up, lifted me up in the street and Vito's brother saw. He went and told him that I was outside with a man. Vito started yelling, 'It's over! You have a man.'
I said, 'He's an ex-classmate, it's nothing. I don't know anybody. What are you trying to do?' And we just started having these riffs, simple, little riffs for no reason. But I thought, 'You know what? He is the one bringing in the money. I should be more humble. I shouldn't have any friends. I just take it as it is. I didn't see anything wrong with it.
Then one day he came home and he told me that he got married. I'm like, 'What?'
Yeah, just to facilitate his paperwork. He got married. He told me he got married after the fact. So I said, 'Oh okay, alright.' So what's, the arrangements. What has to happen? He said, 'We just continue as normal. You don't have to do anything.'
The family moved into another apartment. But the living situation only got worse. Vito started finding anything to be upset about, launching into screaming matches. All of a sudden, he couldn’t get along with Lisa’s oldest daughter. It got so bad that eventually, the girl went to go live with her aunt.
Then I told him, 'You know what? This is my daughter. I'm fed up with the back and forth. You took me. You have to take her too.'
He said, 'Well, if she has to be here, she can only stay in the basement. I don't want to see her...'
She stayed in the basement. I cook, I take food down to her. We go down and spend time with each other. I just kept her away from him so they didn't have any altercations. Everything was always touch and go.
Went to the grocery one day, tried to reach something on the shelf, couldn't reach it. One of the guys in the store offered to help me. Vito came outside, saw the guy talking to me, he got mad. 'Okay. That's it. You don't have to go do the grocery anymore.' I stopped going to the grocery store. He started buying things in bulk. He saw a guy talking to me at the laundry mat. He didn't like that. He bought a washer and dryer, put it in the house so I didn't have to go to the laundry mat anymore.
So, his mom came over one day and she said, 'What's going on here? The girl goes nowhere. She does nothing. All she does is take the children to school.' I said, 'Mom, I'm fine. It's okay. I'm not bringing in any money, I'm not doing anything right now. He's taking care of the children.' She said, 'What about you? Is he taking care of you?'
And that's the first time I ever looked at it like that. I didn't think about it like that. So I said, 'You know what, I need to find a job.' When I found the job, that's when things started falling apart. I would have to get up, four every morning, make him breakfast and lunch to take to work, get the kids up, take them off to school. Catch the train to Long Island to go to work. When I'm done work at seven, catch the Long Island railroad to come back. Go to the babysitter's house back over in Bushwick. Pick them up in Bushwick and head back. Sometimes it's snowing outside and I'm standing in the snow, four-five children in tow. They're cold. They're crying. When I get home, I'm calling him. He's not picking up the phone. He's fast asleep, the car is locked up in the driveway. So we would have arguments like that. How cruel can you be?
I noticed that we were arguing so I said, 'Okay, why don't we go out together.' He'd say, 'No, I don't want to go anywhere.' Alright, so I'm going out with the girls this Friday night. He says, 'Okay, cool.' I went to pick up the children after work and when I got there, I called him and he's like, 'Umm I'm not home. I'm going out with the boys tonight.' I said, 'But we already made arrangements that you're going to be with the kids tonight because I'm going out with the girls.' He said, 'Well, I'm already on my way so you have to stay home with the children.' I was mad as hell. This would have been my first time on a boat ride. But I couldn't go. I got home, called my girlfriends and told them I couldn't make it. They were mad as well.
And I'm sitting there at the computer and I'm going through pictures, going through his stuff and there pops up a picture of him and this woman at the nightclub. My blood started to boil. I'm like, 'You can't go to a nightclub with me but you can go to a nightclub with someone else?' I immediately made a comment on the picture. And I went upstairs and I was on the phone with his sister and she told me I was lying, her brother doesn't go to clubs. And I told her what website it was on and then she saw it and started screaming. 'I can't believe it! He don't go nowhere with you, he don't take you out!'
I said, 'Yeah, that's my point exactly.' So I picked up a knife and I went upstairs and I looked at him and I thought, 'You don't want to make jail in the US. You have children.' So I dropped the knife and I woke him up. I printed out the picture and I said, 'What's this?' He said, 'Aww man, that's what you woke me up for?' We were arguing back and forth, back and forth. Until it was a scramble, a light scramble, nothing crazy. Pushing and pulling back and forth. And he said, 'That's what you want, sex? That's all you want sex?' We ended up making out, right there. And that was the end of that. Never said anything again after that.
But then he started acting weird again. So I thought, 'It definitely has to be another woman. I don't know what it is. But something isn't adding up.' I'd always be on him. And he said, 'You're too much. You need to see a doctor. Something is wrong with you. It's like you're the male and I'm the female. You're always at it. You always want to make out.' I said, 'I thought this is what dudes like. This is just me. This is how I am.' He said, 'No, you're too much. You're too sexual.' I said, 'What am I supposed to do?' And he said, 'See a doctor! Something's wrong with you.' So silly me. I went to my doctor and told her what was wrong with me. And she laughed at me. She said, 'Lisa, you're fine. Everything is fine. This is just how some people are. There are lots of women like you out there. It's just a matter of finding your right match.' I said, 'Well this ain't no game of chance. I can't just go trying people left, right and center to see who's my match.' She said, 'He's just not compatible enough for you. That's all that there is. You just have a higher drive than him.'
Then he started with little things like, 'You're too fat. You're gaining weight. You're always with your head tied up. Oh your hair is so nappy, why don't you relax your hair?' I relaxed my hair and the middle fell out. It aggravated the scalp. So I started doing treatments. And when I did the treatments, I couldn't do anything to my hair. I had to wear it bald. So I started wearing a lot of headwraps. And he'd say, 'Oh, you look like an African! Nobody would like you like that. You have to nicen up yourself.' So I started with the wigs, I started with the weaves, I started wearing shorter, skimpier clothes and I still wasn't getting the attention. I started going to Victoria Secrets and buying all the flashy lingerie and stuff. Still wasn't working. And I said, 'Okay, something is wrong with me. Something is definitely wrong with me.'
My girlfriend from Trinidad, my best friend, grew up together. She came up. She's like my twin. And she said, 'What's going on with him? Why does he look like?' I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'You don't find him a little bit, kind of gay-ish?' I'm like, 'No, why would you say that?' She's like, 'Yeah, I'm watching his hand movements and that don't seem like the person that I knew. You sure everything okay?' I said, 'Yeah, we cool. Everything good.'
Later, Lisa, her best friend and her husband were sitting around with Vito, drinking, taking reminiscing about their days in Trinidad. Lisa said she and her friend told a story about pretending to be gay so men wouldn’t approach them when they were teenagers. Vito seemed to be incredibly interested in the story. And after asking her to recreate the moment with her friend—they declined—he pelted her with questions.The next morning, her friend said:
“I don't ever want you to drink like that with him again. I'm like, why? She's like, I know you love him. I know he's the father of your children, but he took you away from everything and you're a different person. You're not as happy as you used to be. I said, 'What are you talking about? I'm happy.' She said, 'No, you're not. You're pretending that you're happy but you're not happy.' And I started to cry. I said, 'Yeah I'm not happy because he doesn't really take care of me. He takes care of everybody else but me.' She said, 'Does mom know? I'm like, no, nobody knows. And she said, 'Well, I'm just giving you the heads up. He asked you if you were sleeping with somebody else, if you met anybody else, if you ever slept with anybody else. And you answered him everything, off the back foot. If you were messing around on this man, he could have killed you right then and there.
But the friend also heard that after the interrogation, Vito and Lisa had a great time that night. Not too long after, Lisa learned that she was pregnant again.
So I came and I told him. And he said, 'Why wait so long to tell me?'
I'm like, 'What do you mean why wait so long? I wasn't sure. You know how it goes with me, I will think I am and I go and I do the test and they tell me no. I would show no signs of symptoms for the first three/four months. So I just found out. I just got confirmation.'
And he said, 'Well, I don't want it. You better get rid of it. 'I said, 'But we said we were never going to do this.' He said, 'Yeah, but I'm telling you now you already have five. I can't do another one. Get rid of it.'
The next morning I called my mom and I told her. And my mom said to me, 'If you do this, you will lose everything that you have.' I said, 'Mom, please don't do this to me...'
She said, 'Listen to me, I'm telling you. If you do this, you're going to regret it. You're going to lose everything. Mark my words. Do not get rid of this child.'
I didn't listen to her. I called his mother and she said, 'God makes mouths, he will provide the bread. I have eight. So what. You're so young.' I said 'Mom, I can't do this.' I didn't listen to either of them. I went in and I aborted that baby, July 17, 2009. August 20, 2009 I lost my job. For Christmas, I bought my mom up and she was not happy. She said, 'Why are you all doing this? She said, 'Mark my words, this man is going to take these children away from you and you're not going to have anything, you know. You're going to wind up on your own with nothing. I'm warning you and you're not listening. Of course, I didn't listen to her.
Vito and I had another big argument and he stopped paying the rent.
Vito was constantly accusing Lisa of cheating. After six months of no sex, she asked him what was wrong, he said it wasn’t her, it was him. She told him that if he couldn’t take care of her sexually, she would find someone who could. He said, “There are a lot of men out here, choose one.’ Lisa went and slept downstairs in the basement with her daughter. The next morning Vito came down to check and see if she was still in the house.
Later that day, at one of her real estate classes, a man who had been expressing his interest told Lisa that she needed a night out away from her husband so she could actually be treated right. She thought to hell with her husband and agreed. He took her to his house where he cooked her dinner, they laughed, talked, drank and kissed. But when they tried to actually have sex, Lisa realized she couldn’t do it. He left her in his room and slept on the couch. The next morning he took her back home. Lisa slept on the couch.
When Vito saw her there in the morning:
He started yelling and screaming I slept with somebody else. I said, 'It doesn't matter what I say because you're going to believe what you believe anyway.' So we're having our back and forth. Then I get a call from management that we were about to be evicted because we haven't paid the rent. He hasn't paid rent in four months.
Now, Con Edison said they were turning the lights off. He ran an extension somehow and we got lights up to the bedroom but we had no lights anywhere else. Now he's going out. He's locking himself up in the car. He won't come inside. He'd be gone all weekend. All of a sudden, I don't know where the jobs are. He's locking himself in the room, I can't get in there.
But one day he went in to work and I went to get the laundry and I noticed bloody underwear. So I'm thinking, he's having bowel problems. He has to go back to the doctor, whatever. I just left it at that. I didn't think anything of it.
Then, a couple weeks later, the phone rang at five in the morning. I'm like, who the hell is calling him at this hour in the morning? I picked up the phone and I hear on the other end, 'I miss you so much. I miss the way you touch, the way you feel, the way you taste.'
I said, 'What?!' And the other person said, 'Like wait, who is this?'
And I said, 'Who the hell are you?'
And the other person starts cursing.
And I said, 'Hold on honey, what kind of phone do you have? Let's do a video call right now.'
And I did the video call and it's a guy.
He said, 'Lisa?'
And I said, 'Who the hell are you? You know my name?'
He says, 'He said it was over between the both of you!'
I said, 'Well, you look at this.' And I showed him Vito on the bed and I went downstairs and I showed him a video of the children in the room. I said, 'We're all in the same house. And I told him, you handle it on your end and I'll handle it on my end.'
I hung up the phone and I went up to him on the bed and I slapped him. That was the first time in my life ever slapping a man. And he's bigger than me and taller than me, but I slapped him.
And he woke up.
Read the second part of Lisa's story next week.